Every once in a while, we come across a story that combines multiple swimming safety lessons at once. Today, let’s explore one of these. We’re bringing you the true story of a man who swam five hours to safety through shark-infested waters with help of a seal.

The Story: Man Swims Five Hours to Safety with Help of a Seal

Okay, bear with us. This one is quite a tale. According to news reports last week, sea urchin diver Scott Thompson fell from his boat into the Santa Barbara Channel. These waters are loaded with dangerous predators, including great white sharks and tiger sharks. Obviously, this is one of the last places a person wants to fall off a boat!

Trapped in icy winter waters, Thompson was only wearing shorts and a t-shirt. His boat sailed away without him. Alone in a hostile environment, survival instincts took hold. When all hope seemed lost, Thompson suddenly gained an unlikely ally.


A harbor seal realized Thompson’s peril and joined him for what would prove to be a five-hour swim to safety. According to Thompson, each time he dipped under the waters, the seal would nudge him or encourage him to keep going. Eventually, thanks to the help of a seal, Thompson reached an oil rig and managed to haul himself onto it. Then, the members of the rig’s crew helped him to warm up by letting him take a shower.

Even without the help of a seal, Thompson’s is an incredible story of survival. But with the help of a seal, well, this is quite a tale of the sea!

Lessons Learned: Boat Safety

First of all, we’ve written about boating safety a lot on this blog. The help of a seal is nice, but would be even better is never falling off the boat in the first place. So, how can this type of situation be avoided? Before setting out on the sea, it is important to obey some basic boating safety rules:

  • No running onboard the vessel.
  • Never go off on your own.
  • Make sure to stay within eyeshot of each other at all times.
  • When on the water, keep your hands and feet in the boat at all times.
  • Only swim in areas that are explicitly designated for swimming.

Surviving a Capsized Boat

Cold Water Shock

The next problem stems from the icy water. Cold water is much more dangerous than warm water. Cold water shock, or “cold shock response” as it is sometimes called, is quite a common cause of death for a person who is suddenly immersed in frigid water.

As it turns out, the human body’s immediate natural reaction to suddenly being dunked in cold water can prove fatal. You see, the shock can trigger an unprepared person to automatically gasp for a breath of air. If you’re underwater at that moment, you might accidentally inhale a gulp of water instead of oxygen.

Shark Fears

Now, the help of the seal is the feel-good element of this story… but it isn’t the whole story. The fear of shark attacks looms heavy over the tale. Now, fortunately, shark attacks are often quite rare. For those of us in the United States, the odds of being attacked by a shark is about one in 11.5 million. Even better, the odds of dying from a shark attack are less than one in 264.1 million. That’s great news, but it doesn’t mean that sharks shouldn’t still be respected and avoided when possible. Take extra care before taking a dip in waters that are frequented by sharks. Things may seem calm, but the situation can always change quickly.

This story has a happy ending, but could have easily turned tragic at any moment. We’re happy to hear about Scott Thompson’s survival, but wanted to use his story as a way to highlight some general safety suggestions for our readers. Any one of the tips above might save your life. After all, you wouldn’t want to have to rely on the help of a seal in a dangerous situation.